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Dystopian Visions – Closer than you think?

  14 May '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn

‘The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command’ — George Orwell

George Orwell’s legendary novel, 1984, defined our idea of a dystopian state as a world of unrestrained surveillance and control, and where truth is defined by the party. Critically acclaimed on publication in 1949, it presents a chilling vision of the future that has both thrilled and terrified readers across the decades.

 ‘I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put the book down

V. S. Pritchett, reviewing the novel for the New Statesman

As recently as 2019 it was included by BBC Arts as part of a list of 100 Novels that Shaped Our World. In January 2021 Birlinn published a new edition of 1984 featuring an exclusive introduction by Alex Massie.

Alongside George Orwell, we also published Dennis Glover’s fictionalised account of Orwell’s life, The Last Man in Europe, exploring the genesis of 1984, giving an entirely new perspective on both the novel and the man himself.

But the future of 1984 may be closer than we thought.

Both at home and abroad there are alarming lurches towards the regime of control that Orwell warned of more than seventy years ago. From the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the UK, to former President Donald Trump’s era of ‘fake news’, the military coup in Myanmar and the surveillance state in China the rights and freedoms of ordinary people are being challenged like never before.

In Every Breath You Take, journalist Ian Williams lays bare the frightening reality of China’s increasingly totalitarian state. Through flagrant cyber espionage, it has plundered Western technology on a massive scale, bullied Western tech companies and academics (though many have been willing accomplices) and intimidated critics worldwide. In doing so, it has become a model for aspiring dictators everywhere.

Interviews and first-hand accounts from those whose lives have been turned upside down or worse highlight the chilling and ruthless efficiency with which the government can now act.

The book also considers the wider implications for the rest of the world. How to deal with an increasingly strident, aggressive Beijing is one of the biggest challenges facing the West in what has become a technological Cold War.

‘Forget Soviet Russia, Xi’s China now echoes 1930s Germany’
Sunday Times

‘If you doubt that China is seeking to take over empire 1.0, the Anglo-American liberal version, and turn it into empire 2.0, based on an explicitly illiberal model, then you are not paying attention to all the ways this strategy is being executed. China has successfully become the workshop of the world’

Niall Ferguson in The Spectator

Closer to home, Bob Wylie’s Bandit Capitalism exposes corruption at the highest level of the British State that ultimately led to the destructive collapse of the construction giant Carillion. The fallout from the Carillion debacle left 3,000 people jobless and paralysed over 400 public sector contracts. When it went under Carillion sported debts and other liabilities adding up to a staggering £7 billion.

Bandit Capitalism is a story of the lawlessness of contemporary capitalism that is facilitated by hapless politicians, and gives a warning for the future that must be heeded. Bob Wylie charts, in jaw-dropping detail, the rise and rise of the British Oligarchy.

‘Comparable with Michael Lewis’ The Big Short or indeed Ian Fraser’s Shredded, Bob Wylie has done a forensic job. It is a powerful book’
Eamonn O’Neill, TalkMedia Podcast

‘For sheer shame to the business establishment, the Carillion implosion might take the crown. For the scale of “blunder and plunder”, as Bob Wylie puts it, the downfall of the construction and facilities management group has few equals’

The Times

And while the technological Cold War may be waged with China, relations between Russia and the West remain tense. Our new edition of Angus Roxburgh’s Moscow Calling provides a unique and in depth window into the Russian state, with a perspective few can hope to match.

In a career spanning forty years, Angus Roxburgh lived and worked in Russia as a literary translator, as Moscow correspondent of the Sunday Times and the BBC, and as a media consultant to the Kremlin. He witnessed Russian history unfolding at first hand – from the darkest days of communism and the Cold War, through the exhilaration of Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms and the chaos of Yeltsin’s rebuilding of capitalism, to the authoritarian Russia of Putin.

‘If you want a good, enthralling memoir of the great, raging days of turmoil in Russia and the USSR … this is the one to read’ 
Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday

‘Nobody has a better ear for Russia than Angus Roxburgh – a joy to read, often very funny, often profoundly sad, and in both respects a good reflection of the Russian experience’

Justin Webb, The Today Programme (BBC)

We are all living in interesting times, with technolgical advances bringing both opportunties and dangers, where our lives are simultaneously being made more convenient and more controlled. It is more important than ever for us to remain informed and engaged, to chart a course through the turbulant waters ahead. With these publications and many others, we hope to provide some of the crucial information our readers need to keep pace with a changing world.


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